Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to pay our last respects to the departed, formally known as The Curse of Martell's.
Like so many legends, its origin is shrouded in mystery. While we are absolutely sure of where it began, precisely when is unclear. How, and why, are, for the most part, irrelevant.
This much is known for certain. In 1973, my grandparents moved from Nutley in North Jersey to Brick, on the cultural if not exact geographic border between North Jersey (or Central Jersey, if you prefer) and South Jersey. (Brick was named not for any structure, but for an early settler named Brick. Now, as in 1973, the Township of Brick, or Brick Township, is often incorrectly referred to as Brick Town or Bricktown.)
The following summer, 1974, my parents and grandparents began taking me to the nearest Jersey Shore town, Point Pleasant Beach. We've been going ever since.
One of the mainstays of the Point Pleasant Boardwalk is a restaurant called Martell's Sea Breeze. It's an institution. In late summer 1962, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons were the house vocal group there when their first hit, "Sherry," reached Number 1.
The place remains famous for its live music. Virtually every band that's ever played anywhere at the Jersey Shore has played there, although by the time I was old enough to go, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band were already famous; if Bruce has dropped by during my old-enough-to-buy-booze years, I'm not aware of it. I once saw a kid barely old enough to drink play piano and sing Billy Joel's "Piano Man," unaccompanied, and he was fantastic. And, while this wasn't "live music," I remember they once had a mechanical gorilla that sang "Sixteen Tons." First time I ever heard that Tennessee Ernie Ford classic, or Tennessee Ernie's voice at all, was out of that mechanical gorilla.
The place is also known for its Tiki Bar. In fact, its website is www.tikibar.com. And their Shrimp Bar is fantastic.
Now, I don't know when I, or any member of my family, first ate at Martell's. What I do know is that there was never an occasion, that I can remember, that the Yankees were playing while I was so much as inside the door, and they ended up winning.
And I'm not talking about 0-1. Or even 0-5. It was like 0-25, or 0-30. As in, as Fran Drescher might put it, "It begins with an N and ends with an A: Nev-a!"
When I walked into Martell's, even the 1998 Yankees could look like the 1962 Mets.
It never failed. Never, ever.
This included 3 Interleague games against the Mets. This included at least 4 games that I can remember against the Red Sox. This included one of each started by Jose Contreras. Even when watching Contreras pitch for the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series (his only ring thus far), I couldn't help but think of how he ran out of gas while I was at Martell's.
Nothing seemed to work. Eating there but not drinking. Drinking there but not eating. Looking back and forth between the TV screens, Yankees and Mets. Looking back and forth between the TV screens, Yankees and Phillies. (The Point Pleasant Boardwalk is 66 miles from Times Square, and 76 miles from City Hall in Philadelphia, and even in the pre-cable era has always gotten both city's TV stations.) Switching entrees. Switching appetizers. Switching brands of beer. Ordering dessert, and not. Just going in to look at the TV, and then walking out. Staying long enough to see them take the lead, figuring they had it in the bag, and then leaving. Nothing worked! The Yankees ALWAYS lost when I was there!
As you may have guessed, that really pissed me off. So I came up with the name "The Curse of Martell's." I've mentioned it in this blog a few times before. It got to the point where I couldn't go in unless I knew a Yankee game was not in progress. And you know what? It didn't make a difference: If I went in during the afternoon, and the Yankee game was at night, starting after I was already on the train heading back home, tough luck, they still lost.
It was a serious case of "EXPLAIN THIS BULLSHIT!" But no explanation ever came.
Well, last night, coming off a spectacular victory against the Red Sox, to move within half a game of first place, the Yankees started a 3-game home series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, those Pesky Blue Jays. Have I ever mentioned that I don't like them?
The Yankees fell behind 2-0 in the 1st inning, but Brett Gardner hit his 6th home run of the season to tie it in the bottom of the 3rd. In the bottom of the 5th, Robinson Cano singled home Derek Jeter, and that was it for the scoring.
WP: Ivan Nova (15-4) -- his 11th straight winning decision, and the 12th straight game he's started that the Yankees have won. American League Rookie of the Year, anyone? SV: Mariano Rivera (37) -- the 596th of his career. Just 4 more 600, 5 to tie Trevor Hoffman's all-time record, 6 to break it. Barring a freakish turn of events, what once looked (due to the Yankees' not hitting early in the season and Mo's age) like a slight chance is now almost certain: He will break the record before this season is out. LP: Brandon Morrow (9-10).
And with the Red Sox losing at home to the Texas Rangers, the Yankees moved into 1st place by half a game -- by one game in the All-Important Loss Column.
This was a good omen. Maybe, if any Yankee team can beat The Curse of Martell's, maybe this is the one.
Looking at the weather report for this Labor Day weekend, I saw predictions of rain for Sunday and Monday, and thought, "If I'm going to do my traditional Labor Day Weekend trip down to the Shore, it'll have to be on Saturday."
And I got up a little late today to catch the first bus down to Atlantic City, with connections to Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May. So, I thought, "You know what? I haven't been to Point Pleasant this summer. I don't want this to be the first summer since 1973 that I haven't visited even once."
So I got on the New Jersey Transit bus, rode it to a connection to NJT's North Jersey Coast Line train, and rode down to Point Beach. (To differentiate the Borough of Point Pleasant from the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, the locals call them "Point Boro" and "Point Beach." But if I say "Point Pleasant," I mean Point Pleasant Beach, as, with both Grandma and Grandpa now gone, I have no more reason to visit Point Boro.)
It's 7 blocks, just 1 mile, from the station to the Boardwalk. Just 15 minutes. Maybe 20 minutes if you're carrying beach gear.
When I got into Martell's, the Yankees and Blue Jays were tied 3-3 in the top of the 5th inning. This included the 3rd home run of the season by the suddenly smoking Francisco Cervelli. Bartolo Colon wasn't pitching great, but he was pitching well.
Not 5 minutes after I sat down, not 1 minute after my order of Shrimp Scampi and a bottle of Yuengling Lager was taken, boom. Dewayne Wise, who hadn't hit a home run all season, cranked one into the Yankee bullpen. 4-3 Toronto.
Damn those Pesky Blue Jays! Damn that Curse of Martell's! It's struck again!
Well, what was I supposed to do? Tell the bartender to cancel my order? No, I decided to stick it out.
Where were you when Jesus Montero got his first major league hit? I was at Martell's, when he singled with 2 out in the bottom of the 6th. But Eduardo Nunez grounded out to end the inning.
Joe Girardi took Colon out with 1 out in the 7th. To figure out whether a pitcher should be taken out, Girardi still uses something called a "pitch count," instead of using what I use, something called "my eyes." There was no reason to take Colon out: Though he'd crossed the 100-pitch barrier, he was pitching no worse than he was the inning before.
Still, Girardi took out Colon and put in Boone Logan. Oh no... Martell's AND Logan in the same game? No good can come from this...
Wrong! Logan got 2 outs, and the Yankees went to the bottom of the 7th trailing by only a run.
With 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th, a tiring Ricky Romero hit Curtis Granderson with a pitch. Right in the back. Right on the base of the 4 in his Number 14. Ouch.
On purpose? Probably not, since it brought the go-ahead run to the plate. Then again, it was Alex Rodriguez, who'd already gone from a 3-0 count to a strikeout with a man on in the bottom of the 5th. A-Rod was doing a very good impression of himself, circa October 2006.
Except, this time, Romero was used up. He walked A-Rod on 4 pitches. Out went Romero, responsible for the tying run on 2nd, Grandy, and the go-ahead run on 1st, A-Rod. In came Casey Janssen, with an ERA under 2.
Up came Cano. He cracked a drive to right-center. Just like the previous game, his double gave the Yankees the defining lead. Grandy and A-Rod both scored. 5-4 Yankees. Cano's 100th and 101st RBIs of the season.
Up came Nick Swisher. He grounded to short, but Yunel Escobar muffed it, not even getting his glove on it. It was very generous of the official scorer to give Swish a hit (and thus an RBI) on that. Cano scored. 6-4 Yankees.
For some reason, Girardi did not go to Mo today. He let David Robertson pitch 2 innings. He breezed through the 8th, 1-2-3, and got the 1st out in the 9th. Two more outs, and Martell's hold over the Yankees is broken.
Except Brett Lawrie (no relation to new Red Sox pain in the ass Jed Lowrie) doubled to center. Uh-oh, that brings the tying run to the plate...
But Robertson got J.P. Arencibia to ground out, and he fanned Mike McCoy to end it.
Ballgame over! Curse of Martell's over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!
WP: Logan (5-2... that can't be right, can it?). SV: Robertson (1 -- only the 2nd Yankee save this season NOT by Mariano, the other being by Rafael Soriano). LP: Romero (13-10).
The series concludes tomorrow afternoon, with CC Sabathia starting against Brett Cecil. Next, the Baltimore Orioles come into The Bronx.
Oh, by the way: Martell's shrimp scampi is really good. A bit pricey at 17 bucks, but seeing as how I was paying for a nice meal AND a Yankee win, not a bad price at all.
The Red Sox also won today, so the AL East standings are as follows:
The Yankees are 84-53, in 1st place in the Division. In the race for best record in the AL, and thus home-field advantage in both the ALDS and the ALCS, the Yankees lead the AL West-leading Texas Rangers by 6 1/2 games (8 in the loss column), and the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers by 8 (9). In all of MLB, only the Phillies have a better record. (Tonight, the Phils are playing at the Florida Marlins tonight, after beating them last night in front of a crowd listed as 21,659 paid but probably only 8,000 showed up, and I'll bet most of them were rooting for the Phillies).
The Red Sox are 84-54, half a game behind the Yankees, 1 in the loss column. The Yankees' Magic Number to eliminate them, and thus everyone, from the Division race is 25: From here on out, any number of Yankee wins and Boston losses adding up to 25, and the Yanks win their 18th AL East title, their 47th 1st-place finish, with the chance to go for their 41st Pennant and 28th World Championship.
The Tampa Bay Rays are 75-63, 9 1/2 (10) behind the Yankees, and 9 (9) behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. Whoever wins the AL East between the Yanks and Sox, the team that doesn't pretty much has the Wild Card wrapped up. Their elimination number for the Division race is 16.
The Jays are 69-70, not that bad considering they aren't exactly rolling in cash and no longer have Roy Halladay, and are 16 games out of 1st. Their elimination number is 9.
And the Orioles are done: At 55-82, they are 29 games behind the Yankees and 28 1/2 games behind the Sox, already eliminated from postseason competition, and guaranteed a losing season for the 14th straight year.
The Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners are also eliminated in the AL; in the National League, that dishonor is already bestowed on the Houston Astros, with the Chicago Cubs probably next to follow, perhaps by tomorrow.
In fact, the MLB Playoff spots are pretty much guaranteed, the only question left is as to order.
In the AL Central, Detroit leads the Cleveland Indians by 6 and the Chicago White Sox by 7 1/2; although the Tigers blew a huge lead in 2006 (but got the Wild Card and won the Pennant anyway) and a smaller one in 2009, they're not likely to blow this one, as their pitching is improved.
In the AL West, the Rangers are only 4 behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but I don't see them blowing that.
In the NL East, the Phillies are 8 1/2 ahead of the Atlanta Braves, but the Braves probably have the Wild Card locked up, 8 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers lead the Cardinals by 8, so, for only the 4th time in their history (3rd without a strike-forced split-season format), the Brew Crew will be playing past the first weekend in October.
In the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks lead the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants by 5.
So if the current standings hold to the end of the season, keeping in mind that the Wild Card teams cannot face the winners of their own Division in the 1st round, the Division Series matchups will be as follows, with the 2nd team mentioned having home-field advantage:
Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees.
Boston Red Sox vs. Texas Rangers.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Philadelphia Phillies.
Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers.
So the Yankees will have the chance for revenge in both rounds: For 2006 in the Division Series, and then, if they win it, either for 2004 (Sox) or 2010 (Rangers).
And Milwaukee fans, or at least those old enough to remember 1965 when the Braves left them high and dry until the arrival of the Brewers in 1970, will have a big chance for revenge.
One more Yankee note: September 3, 1941, 70 years ago today: The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 2-1 in 11 innings at Fenway Park, thanks to a home run by "Old Reliable," Tommy Henrich. This clinched the Yankees' 12th American League Pennant. It ties the record for earliest Pennant clinching ever, and to this day no Pennant (in the remainder of the single-division era, 1942-68) or Division title (1969-2011) has been clinched sooner.
On September 3, 1902, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Boston Braves, 12-5 at the South End Grounds in Boston, to clinch the National League Pennant, and thus an unofficial earliest-ever World Championship of baseball. There would be no World Series between the Pirates of Honus Wagner and the AL Champion Philadelphia Athletics, managed by Connie Mack. Later known as "The Grand Old Man of Baseball," he was then 39 years old, and just 6 years earlier, in 1896, had finished an 11-season major league career as a catcher with... the Pirates. The 1902 Pirates finished a whopping 27 1/2 games ahead of the 2nd place Brooklyn Superbas (Dodgers).
Jeter hits 3064 DONE
Rivera saves 596 6
A-Rod homers 627 136
A-Rod hits 2766 234
Magic Number 25 (to eliminate Scum, 16 for Rays, 9 for Jays, O's done)